DIGSWELL, Robert, of Beds.
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Family and Education
m. (1) by Feb. 1377, Agnes, wid. of Edmund Pecock of Windridge, Herts., Great and Little Cornard, Suff. and London; (2) by Feb. 1389, Margaret, da. and h. of Guy Boys (d. bef. 1370) of Great Munden, Herts. by his w. Cecily, da. and h. of John Osvill.1
Sheriff, Beds. and Bucks. 11 Nov. 1384-20 Oct. 1385.
Collector of a tax, Beds. Dec. 1384.
Little is known of this MP’s early life, although he may have been related to Eleanor, the widow of John Digswell, who died in October 1375 possessed of an estate in Buckinghamshire. His earliest connexions were, however, with Cambridgeshire where he acquired an unsavoury reputation for crimes of violence. In February 1363 a commission of oyer and terminer was set up to investigate the complaint of one Roger Walter of Cambridge that Digswell and many others had assaulted him at Histon and robbed him of £19. He was evidently engaged in a personal vendetta against the Walter family, since in the following May a similar inquiry was held in response to a petition by John Walter of Orwell charging Digswell and his gang with acts of theft, trespass and imprisonment. Not long afterwards he joined forces with Sir Warin Bassingbourne and another body of men, including a draper named John Digswell who was probably one of his kinsmen, to launch an attack on William Notton; and a third royal commission was duly appointed to examine those involved. For the next few years Digswell lived quietly out of the public eye, and he is next mentioned only in October 1374, when one of his former employees obtained a royal pardon for failing to answer him in court when being sued on an action of account.2
It is now impossible to discover what property Digswell held in his own right, although a considerable amount of evidence has survived about his two marriages, both of which proved very lucrative. His first wife, Agnes, whom he married in, or before, February 1377, was the widow of Edmund Pecock, a wealthy landowner with estates in Suffolk, Hertfordshire and London. Edmund’s next heirs were his two nieces, Alice and Margaret, who were then married to, respectively, John Swanbourne and Nicholas Laurence. They agreed to settle revenues of £16 p.a. (some of which were reversionary) upon Agnes by way of dower, pledging other family property in London as security for the regular payment of this sum. Digswell may also have acquired some of his interests in Bedfordshire through Agnes, since a few years after her death he became involved in litigation with the above-mentioned Margaret Laurence and her second husband, William Ash, who, in about 1394, arraigned him on an assize of novel disseisin at Bedford. By July of the following year the Swanbournes were also suing Digswell and his feoffees, among whom were the influential Bedfordshire landowners, William Terrington* and Sir Gerard Braybrooke II*.3 Certainly, by the date of his first return to Parliament in February 1383, Digswell had established strong connexions in the county, and over the next few years he became closely involved in the local community. In 1385, for example, he and the lawyer, John Hervy*, were made trustees of an estate in Westoning which remained in their hands for some time. Together with Thomas Pever† he also acted as a feoffee of land in Chalgrave, being summoned in this capacity to appear as a defendant at the Bedford assizes of July 1396. He and his associates won their case, and after recovering damages of 48 marks they themselves arraigned another assize against the rival claimants. Digswell’s circle also included Thomas Waweton* and the Huntingdonshire landowner, John Styuecle*, with whom he appears to have been on particularly close terms. He held a substantial part of the Styuecle estates in trust, and in October 1386 he joined his friend in taking recognizances of £300 from a neighbouring farmer. Although he was by then regarded as a figure of some consequence, Digswell evidently felt no more respect for the law than he had as a young miscreant in Cambridgeshire. He was again summoned before a commission of oyer and terminer at the very beginning of 1384, this time because of an assault allegedly made by him and his men on the earl of Buckingham’s property at Notley (in Buckinghamshire). Notwithstanding this brush with the youngest of Richard II’s uncles, Digswell was made sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in the following November; and just one day after his appointment he took his seat in the House of Commons for the third time (thus technically contravening the statute which forbade the return of sheriffs to Parliament).4
Part of the revenues assigned to Digswell’s first wife came from the manor of Windridge in Hertfordshire, and it was possibly as a result of this connexion that he became acquainted with the Boys family of Great Munden. By February 1389 he had married Margaret, the daughter and heir of Guy Boys, who then held a reversionary title to the manor and its extensive appurtenances in William, Weston, Letchworth and Wymondley. The property itself was then occupied by Sir Thomas Boys’s widow, Agnes, and her second husband, John Durham*, but the couple agreed to let Digswell’s nominees recover it and collect an annual rent of £24 for him so long as Agnes lived. Both parties bound themselves in heavy securities to perform the terms of the agreement, Digswell being supported in this by his friend, John Styuecle, who not only offered personal guarantees worth 200 marks on his behalf, but also agreed to act with William Terrington, Ralph Fitzrichard*, John Hervy and others as a trustee of the manor. It is interesting to note that John and Agnes Durham came into possession of the manor of Diggeswell in Hertfordshire at some point well before 1412, just possibly as a result of an exchange effected at this time.5
In comparison with his somewhat turbulent youth, Digswell’s last years passed uneventfully enough, although the early 1390s marked his involvement in litigation between Henry of Bolingbroke and Elizabeth Neville over the ownership of the manor of Sutton in Bedfordshire. His part in the lawsuit, which came before the court of common pleas in the Hilary and Easter terms of 1392, seems for once to have been above board, although the ‘necessary expenses’ of £15 sustained by him on Bolingbroke’s part admit a variety of interpretations. He was bound over in securities of £20 to account properly for the money dispensed by him, which he evidently did at some point over the next year. This was not the only recognizance offered by him in Chancery at this time, for in November 1393 he stood bail of £600 for Sir Edward Butler†, whose riotous behaviour was then being investigated by the royal council. As we have already seen, Digswell was still alive in July 1396, but nothing more is heard of him after this date and he probably died by the end of the century. His widow, Margaret, took Henry Hayward as her third husband, and it was to their son, Thomas, that Great Munden eventually passed. She married yet again, in or before 1419, but we do not know if she survived Walter Pigeon, the last of her four husbands.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Dekeswell, Dikeswell, Dixwelle, Dygeswell, Dykeswell(e).
- 1. Corporation of London RO, hr 105/3, 54; VCH Herts. iii. 125-6; J.E. Cussans, Herts. (Cashio), 253; CCR, 1385-9, p. 644. Some confusion exists about the identity of Digswell’s first wife, Agnes, whom the VCH (Herts. ii. 399) describes wrongly as the widow of John Somersham. Agnes’s sister-in-law was, in fact, Somersham’s wife; and it was her two daughters and coheirs, Margery and Alice, who (as his nieces and next of kin) inherited the estate left by Agnes’s first husband, Edmund Pecock, when he died without issue just before 1377.
- 2. CFR, viii. 325; CPR, 1361-4, pp. 360-1, 365; 1364-7, pp. 69, 140; 1374-7, p. 10.
- 3. Corporation of London RO, 105/3, 54; VCH Herts. ii. 270, 399; Cussans, 253; JUST 1/1506 rot. 9, 30v.
- 4. CP25(1)6/71/4; JUST 1/1506 rot. 8v, 10; Hunts Feet of Fines (Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvii), 92-94; CCR, 1381-5, p. 417; 1385-9, pp. 109, 268; 1389-92, p. 298.
- 5. E326/4395; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 644, 652-3; VCH Herts. iii. 125-6.
- 6. DL28/3/4, f. 10; JUST 1/1506 rot. 8v; CPR, 1391-6, p. 337; CCR, 1392-6, p. 233; VCH Herts. iii. 125-6; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 399.